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13 Feb - Leaving Bird Island

Date: Sunday 13 February 2005
Position @ 1200 Local (GMT): 54°16'9 South, 036°29.7' West. Alongside King Edward Point
Next destination: Halley Research Station, Brunt Ice Shelf, Antarctica
ETA: Dependant upon ice and weather conditions
Distance to go: 1300.0 nmiles taking a direct course. But exact distance dependant upon route taken
Total Distance sailed from UK: 14965.3 nmiles

Current weather: Brilliant blue skies, sunshine, few clouds to the west of the hills, but slightly windy
Sea State: Calm alongside King Edward Point jetty
Wind: W, 25 kts
Barometric pressure:996.9 mmHg
Air temperature: 5.6°C
Sea temperature: 3.8°C

For the most up-to-date chart of the ships position, visit sailwx.info

Late Again…

I make no apology for the lateness of the webpage this week, because we’ve been busy. Busy making good stuff to write up in the pages of the Antarctic Diary, so this is what we’ve been up to this week…

Last time we were still sitting off Bird Island and awaiting the Morrison’s contingent ashore to finish making their temporary accommodation.  This accommodation would house the building workforce through till the anticipated completion of the new Base in June/July. Until this accommodation was finished, the Shackleton had to stay on location as a floating hotel since Bird Island, as a base, is too small to support the base members and the Morrison’s team of 11.

Unfortunately the weather last weekend was not conducive to getting the work completed. For us on the vessel it provided problems landing the workforce ashore in the morning since high winds and choppy seas meant the Fast Rescue Craft (FRC) was bouncing all over the place once it was successfully launched.  However, before the weather deteriorated the guys were landed ashore and had to spend an impromptu first night ashore when it became too ‘unworkable’ to recover them on Monday night.  Apparently, the first night was not uncomfortable for the workforce despite being landed ashore without the benefit of their email, telephone calls, tv and dvd entertainments, and sticky buns from the galley !?? But fear not, they were all back onboard again on Tuesday evening for another evening where they could enjoy the home comforts and partake of a warm shower. (not sure if the plumbing was truly up and running ashore by that time ?).

However, all was not through just yet.  On Wednesday, the Morrison’s team had a slight setback with one of their vehicles going unserviceable. Luckily, the cavalry was still at hand and Shackleton despatched her 2nd Engineer Mike to the shore to help rectify the problem.  There was time now to consider the alternatives and at one point it was considered whether to go to King Edward Point overnight to collect a replacement vehicle to replace the heavy-lift machine that was looking unrecoverable, but with much perseverance and attention, Mike and the Morrisons Team got the J.C.B running again and so negated the need to run off on a further rescue mission. Well done Mike. The broken vehicle didn’t hold up construction on the interior of the accommodation too much, and there was little or no ‘down time’ as a consequence, but we still had to remain in the vicinity of Bird Island all day in the anticipation of collecting our 2nd Engineer and possibly having to make the dash to King Edward Point.

Bird Island Click to see Bird Island on one of our nicer days.


It’s motoring jokes galore for Wavey Davey this week. What prompted him to get into the motoring frame of mind, I really do not know, unless he has been driving the Teletruck Forklift in the holds again this week ?

Davey took his car in for an MOT last leave. Before he had it tested, he checked it thoroughly and asked a friend to help.  When checking the indicators he asked his friend, ‘Are they working ‘ ???  His friend replied ‘Yes, they are. No, they’re not. Yes, they are, No, they’re not. Yes, they are…’

‘Check the tyres’ said Davey.  ‘1, 2, 3, 4,… Yes, they are all there’ replied his friend.

Davey then jumped in the car to drive off to the test centre. He even opened up the car door to let the clutch out  !…

When his car failed his MOT, Davey went out to buy a new car. He bought a Volkswagen Beetle. His friend also bought one too !

‘This is no good’, said Wavey Davey looking under the bonnet. ‘There’s no engine in this one !!’.

‘That’s okay’ said his friend, ‘ I’ve got a spare one in my boot ‘ !!!


Having retrieved our engineer and deposited our Morrisons contingent ashore complete with all their chattels, Capt. Graham ordered a voyage for the ship to an alternative destination while Morrisons got themselves established and prepared some waste for us to backload.  So on Friday morning we took aboard the Bird Island Winterers, Issac, Sarah and Chris and we headed off down the Northeastern coast of South Georgia to go and visit some remote bays for some recreation, relaxation and boat training.

Boat launch Click as the boats are launched to see the Crew Members.

Taken ashore in ‘Ribs’ (Rigid Inflatable Boats), the crew, dressed in their finest orange, arrived at the deserted old whaling base which I was told was abandoned in 1931 after only a 30-year illustrious career.  Like all the stations along the South Georgia coastline, they had ‘their day’ when whale oil was replaced by the synthetic products in use today. Much easier to achieve and cheaper. But it marked the end of an era of Whaling and Sealing around the islands of South Georgia. Prince Olav Bay was just one of the many that fell victim to the times.  For the crew of the Ernest Shackleton it now remains a playground for the imagination, and more realistically, a playground for a multitudinous population of seal pups and penguins.

Prince Olav Bay Prince Olav Bay
Seals at Prince Olav Bay Penguins at Prince Olav Bay

Click on images above to see view of Prince Olav Bay along with seals and penguins.....

Seal pups galore remain behind as they are weaned off milk and are encouraged to fish for themselves in the relatively sheltered waters of the bay and the coastline of South Georgia.  But don’t be deceived by the ‘cuddly’ appearance of the pretty seal pups,… they would bite your finger as soon as look at it !  Like little Yorkshire Terriers, the smaller they are, the more aggressive they become.  … but on the other hand… ‘Aren’t they cute ?’.

The crew and Bird Island Contingent, having had a thoroughly enjoyable wander ashore then re-boarded the Shackleton for a quick relocation to an adjacent harbour called Blue Whale Harbour. This was another opportunity for a couple of hours wander ashore, but unlike the earlier hours of the day, this evening was heralded by drizzle, and mist. There were still a few hardy souls who were determined to enjoy the possibility of a stretch of the legs ashore and to add another totally remote destination to their list of ‘been there, seen it, got the t-shirt’.  One such jolly-merchant was your very own web-editor who went ashore in the official role of web-page photographer.  It’s a great excuse and I was thankful for it !

As with all these places in South Georgia the resident population comprises of animals. And so once we landed – once again sporting the orange boating suits – we had to ‘run the gauntlet’ of the ‘furries’ of South Georgia.  In the surf, on the beach, in the tussock grass, all the way up the hills and even in the fresh water reservoir that we found right up there on the hills, you couldn’t move for finding a seal or seal pup. Cute as they may be, their constant aggressive snarling and warnings of ‘be off with you’ becomes warring after a time. ‘Aren’t they cute ? ‘ … I’m inclined to say that after a while ‘No they are not !!!’.

Fur seals Cute or Not Cute ?’ that is the question .  Click on image to see.

But seeing these remarkable animals in their natural environment is an experience not to be sniffed at.  We are really blessed to be able to experience it first hand and ‘thanks’ in abundance from everyone ashore that day to the Captain for allowing us the opportunity to get ashore and see it with our own eyes.

Finally, it was back on board RRS Ernest Shackleton for a slow-steam back up to Bird Island overnight.  Arriving there on Saturday morning, we offloaded the Bird Island winterers, checked that Morrisons were established and all okay and then ran the ‘Rockhopper’ cargo tender for a final collection of the Morrisons waste before we turned Eastwards for King Edward Point, for Halley, and for the remainder of our Antarctic season.  After a great day of seeing South Georgia in all it’s splendour it was time to turn our thoughts again to the itinerary before us.

Stevie B Click to see the editor – slightly beschevelled, but otherwise happy to be exploring ashore.

Stevie b up on the hills alongside the freshwater reservoir that found up there at Blue Whale Harbour.

Sunday 13th has been spent alongside King Edward Point, Cumberland Bay where the ship has collected skips and containers from the Base. These had been left there during the Bird Island relief and are now needed for the onward journey down to Halley.  We are actually to spend 2 days alongside the jetty at ‘K.E.P’ and this has allowed a few more runs ashore.  But nothing quite compares to visiting the more remote places that have been abandoned for many-a-year.  As Captain Graham added, he had only ever visited Prince Olav Bay once in 15 years of working these waters.  Still, it is always good to see old friends at the Base and say goodbye to a very demanding time at Bird Island.  From working 12 hour shifts with early starts and late finishes, the crew were enjoying putting the clocks backwards an hour at night on a couple of occasions (for an hour extra in bed) and getting back to regular watch-keeping hours.

We will not see Bird Island again until mid-March after our Halley final relief call.

Birthdays this Week : We had a double-header this week.  On the 10th both Mike Jones, 2nd Engineer, and Stuart ‘Shaggy’ McMillan, AWG Cook, both had a birthday, so it was a Double Cake day that day.  This time the Galley Staff took a back seat as a major medical operation had Ben and Frank wielding the spatula’s (spatulii ?) and producing two distinctive cakes – one of course, in the shape of a chef’s hat !

Forthcoming Events: Complete loading at KEP and securing the cargo for sea.  Then depart South Georgia for Halley on the Brunt Ice Shelf.

Contributors this week:  Thanks to all those budding photographers whose images I stole for this week’s web offering.  Ben the dentist, A/b Dave, Dr. Frank, and me.

Diary 12 should be written on Sunday 20th February and published on the Monday 21st February 2005.

Stevie B
Comms Officer.